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And Now for Something Completely Different, 2nd Round: Thanksgiving Musings

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According to the Smithsonian Magazine, the First Thanksgiving menu likely included wildfowl, corn, porridge and venison.

It’s been almost a year since David from Albuquerque wrote our first guest blog on BigLittleMeals.com.  And he’s been kind enough to come back on board for a follow-up…this time with a focus on Thanksgiving.  Those who know David know how witty and curmudgeonly he is.  Others may only know that in his professional life he is/was a geriatric psychiatrist.  Could that explain a lot? 🙂  What few knew prior to our blog is that David is an excellent and passionate cook – and a little sentimental, too.

David describes himself as a “seriously selcouth sesquipedalianist.”  Look it up.  I had to.

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That will make a really big pumpkin pie!  Or is it a squash?  David points out that they’re both cucurbitaceae.

Thanksgiving Musings from David:

Ann asked if I could have another blog contribution ready by the middle of November. Not surprisingly, this has me thinking about Thanksgiving. For me, Thanksgiving is the most important holiday of the year. I suppose Christmas has been a bigger deal for the children, but the way we celebrate Christmas always makes me grumpy. We are all drowning in objects that do little but make work for us and yet we “celebrate” by showering one another with ever more of the stuff. I threw an embarrassing tantrum on Christmas morning a few years ago and my family seems finally to have gotten the message that if they want to give me something, it had darned well better be something that can be drunk or eaten or put into a vase for a few days and then composted. And yet I am expected to do to other people what I hate when they do it to me. Who turned the Golden Rule on its head? I thought to solve or at least mitigate the problem a few years ago by giving Frankie something that would actually be useful in the household, which we were going to have to buy anyway even if there were no gift-giving occasion. I gave her a lovely new vacuum cleaner for Christmas. Sweet Jesus! You’d have thought I threw a turd in the soup.

Ah, but Thanksgiving! No one needs to bring anything but whatever friends or orphans are at hand. Extra side dishes or wine is welcomed but certainly not necessary, and no one brings gifts. Hurray! We can focus on eating ourselves into a stupor. When I was in the Navy, some of my shipmates and I had rented an apartment in Waikiki and we made a big Thanksgiving dinner in which every dish contained what we called “herbal hilarity” back in the day, of which we had plenty, just having returned from Bangkok. Wowsa. We got hungrier (and stupider) after every bite. I have no idea who cleaned up the mess, if indeed anyone did. Most of us were nailed to the rug.

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We do not wish to imply that this was David’s mother.  Rather, she represents all of those 1950’s Uber Mothers!

In my childhood home, Mom cooked the dinner. She started by simmering the turkey neck and giblets to make stock for the gravy. After a couple of hours when things were smelling awesome and the neck was falling-apart tender, Dad and I would fish it out of the stock, salt the hell out of it and suck on vertebrae until they were shiny clean. I do that still, and think of him fondly every time. Now, I don’t put the liver in the stock, but fry it up for breakfast on Thanksgiving morning. It is delicious and as an added bonus, onlookers are revolted. Speaking of which, my mom also put marshmallow topping on her sweet potato casserole, which would put poor Frankie completely over the edge of revulsion. I don’t even joke with her about that, lest I get puked upon. But sometimes the grandkids do.

Early in our family life, I didn’t do as much cooking as now. I did the pancake breakfasts, guacamole, outdoor cooking, and maybe a pot of chili or spaghetti once in a while, but Frankie did most of the cooking. I always cooked the turkey at Thanksgiving, though, and gradually began to make the side dishes as well. For several years, I experimented and cooked “creatively” after the fashion I described in the January blog, even at Thanksgiving. One year I even made “Mama Stamberg’s Cranberry Relish,” which actually doesn’t taste too bad, but we couldn’t get over the fact it looks like lumpy Pepto Bismol.

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Cranberry Relish – from Susan Stamberg’s NPR series.  Yum?

In a joint effort with friends and family one Thanksgiving, we deep-fried five 10# turkeys. Scary dangerous and an enormous mess, I’m afraid, but pretty tasty for all that. I made a wild rice stuffing for the turkey one year, a couple of years made corn bread and green chile stuffing, drove myself crazy trying to pick the husks off hazelnuts one year, and even added oysters to the dressing once. I thought the oyster stuffing was great, but that went over like the aforementioned turd in the soup. As did giblets in the gravy–now, I eat them with my turkey neck, all alone, missing my dad. And I make what I take to be the best turkey dressing on the planet–not surprisingly it’s a tweaked up version of what my mom used to make. Without oysters. (A word that she pronounced to rhyme with “moisture,” which she was more apt to use to refer to the testes of a bull than to a bivalve, though as far as I know, she never ate any of either).

Gradually, our favorite dishes became obligatory. Frankie used to tell me a couple of weeks before the big day that it was time to plan the menu and we would sit and discuss. I was always ready for new ideas, and though she was not frankly opposed, she would always say, “Well, we have to have turkey and your dressing, of course, and mashed potatoes and gravy, and sweet potatoes, and spinach and artichokes, and cranberry sauce, and pies…” By the time she got through the list of obligatory dishes, the meal was planned. Finally, ten years ago I made a “Thanksgiving Menu and Shopping List” template and now just pull it up so that we can save ourselves an hour of dither.

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David’s shopping list

I find it interesting and puzzling not only that we serve the same thing at Thanksgiving every year, but that we almost never have any of these dishes at another time. There are no surprises and not even the most finicky grandchild complains about the food. Even more puzzling is that I not only put up with this, I welcome it, which seems completely out of character for a man disposed to disruption and alert for adventure. A unexpected consequence of cooking exactly the same thing every year is that because of long practice, preparing a huge Thanksgiving feast now takes less time than some dinners that are not for especially special occasions. I do a little prep work the day before, start the turkey in the morning on Thanksgiving Day, have everything else ready to go in the oven by noon and serve the meal by 3 PM.

So, what’s for dinner?

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